Thursday, August 02, 2007

Growth in Grace

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 3:18

The word grace is one of the key terms of Holy Scripture frequently occurring, and by the knowledge of which much of the import of the whole volume is unfolded. It signifies favor, free and unmerited. "By grace (favor) are you saved," Eph. 2:8. This is the primitive, prevailing, generic sense of the word, and is its meaning in such passages also as the following, and many others– Rom. 11:5, 6; Eph. 1:2, 6, 7; 2:7; Titus 2:11; 3:7. But as in the ordinary use of language we sometimes call the effect by the name of the cause, the word grace is often applied in Scripture to several things which are the consequences and operations of Divine favor; thus the aids of the Holy Spirit are called grace, as in that passage, "My grace is sufficient for you," 2 Cor. 12:9; also 1 Cor. 15:9, 10.
In the passage under consideration, it has a meaning somewhat different from either of these, yet related to them, and signifies holiness, as the fruit and effect of God's grace—and the exhortation to grow in grace is a beautiful, comprehensive, and instructive way of saying, grow in holiness; advance in piety. True, there is a sense in which a believer may grow in the favor of God itself, as well as in its effects. It is said of Christ in his youth, that "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man," Luke 2:52.
God, in his love, delights in his people on a twofold account; first, because of the work of his Son, which is upon them for justification—and secondly, because of their spiritual graces, inasmuch as these are the work of his Holy Spirit; and therefore the more he sees of this work in them, the more he must love them. On account of their relation as children, he loves them all equally; but as regards their spiritual condition, he loves them in proportion to their degrees of conformity to himself. Hence they may grow in his favor continually, that is, one person may have more in him, than another, that God loves, and that same person may have more in himself, at one time than another, that God approves. But since this supposes, as its ground, a growth in holiness, which is the object of Divine delight, it brings us to that view of growth in grace, which is the meaning of the passage, and the design of this address—I mean, advance in piety.

The explanation of the text is very instructive with regard to several general principles.

1. True religion in the soul is the work of God—it is the operation of God himself as the efficient agent, whoever and whatever may be the instrumentality. It is the grace of God in us.

2. All God's dealings with men, in regard to salvation and its benefits, are the result of pure favor. Man, as a sinner, merits nothing, and can merit nothing—it is grace that reigns throughout his whole salvation.

3. In sanctification, God's favor shines as brightly as in justification. God's grace is as rich and free in delivering us from the power of sin—as from its punishment. God as effectually blesses us, and as truly loves us in the work of his Spirit, as in the work of his Son.

4. Sanctification is a progressive work. Growth necessarily implies progress. We cannot be more justified at one time than another, for justification admits of no degrees; but we can be more sanctified at one time than another, for sanctification admits of all degrees.

5. Inasmuch as every operation of God's grace is designed to bless us, sanctification is as much a Christian's happiness as justification, since it is no less an effect of Divine grace. Consequently, to grow in holiness is to grow in happiness.

I now come to the exhortation, and admonish you to grow in grace. This implies, of course, that you have grace, for without this you cannot grow. Regeneration is incipient sanctification, sanctification is the progress of regeneration. The former is the birth of the child of God, the latter is his growth. Without life there can be no growth. Stones do not grow, for they have no vitality; and the heart of man before regeneration is compared to a stone. Are you convinced you are born again of the Spirit? That the heart of stone is changed into warm, vital flesh? It is to be feared that the reason why so many professors never grow, is because they have no principle of vitality. If you do not grow, you may question if you are born again, whether you are anything more than the picture or statue of a child.

Perhaps some will ask what are the signs of growth. Here I would remark that growth may be considered either as general, in reference to the whole work of grace in the soul, or to some particular part of it. If we consider the former, I reply, that it is evinced by a general improvement of the whole religious character; an increasing, obvious, and conscious development of the principle and power of spiritual vitality in all its appropriate functions and operations; an increase in the vigor and purity of religious affections, so that the heart is really more intensely engaged in piety; the inward life is more concentrated, sprightly, and energetic—so that the Christian has more of youthful vivaciousness in the service of God, and is actuated by a more intense and practical ardor.

In this state of GENERAL growth in grace, FAITH becomes more simple, unhesitating, and confiding; less staggered by difficulties, less beclouded by doubts and fears, and more able to disentangle itself on its way to the cross—from self-righteousness, and dependence on frames and feelings.
LOVE to God, though it may contain less of glowing emotion, has more of fixed principle; and is more prompt, resolute, and self-denying in obedience.
JOY in believing, if it has not so much occasional rapture, has more of habitual, calm, and tranquil repose.

RESIGNATION to the will of God is more absolute, and we can bear with less perturbation, agitation, and chafing of mind—the crossing of our will, and the disappointment of our hopes.

PATIENCE and meekness towards our fellow creatures and fellow Christians become more conspicuous and controlled. At first, the believer can scarcely ford a shallow of troubles—but now he can swim in a sea of them; formerly he was oppressed by the lightest injury—now he can bear a heavy load; once he could scarcely endure the unintentional offences of his friends—now he can forgive and pray for his enemies.

An increase of HUMILITY is a sure and necessary sign of spiritual growth. At first we were ready to think many worse than ourselves—now we are as ready to think all better than ourselves. Then we saw some of our defects, and they appeared small—now we see many, and they are affectingly magnified. Then we knew little but the sins of the 'conduct'—but now the corruptions of the 'heart' are continually abasing us. He who is growing in humility is growing indeed; for the growth of grace is as much downward at the root, as upwards in the spreading and towering branches. "Other virtues aspire upwards—but humility looks downwards. We say of the others, the higher they grow the better—but humility is best at the lowest. Faith and hope have a holy ambition, they look not lower than heaven, nothing can content them but an immortal crown; but humility pleases herself with abasement, and you shall find her with Job in the dust, in that school of morality. Yet even there she grows, and that in the favor of God—the deeper she roots, the higher she sprouts."

ZEAL increases with everything else, and he who grows in grace, advances in love to God's service, being more constant in attendance upon God's house, advancing from pleasure on sabbath-day ordinances—to delight in weekday ones; and from regular private prayer—to habitual ejaculatory prayer.
The beauty and purity of external HOLINESS advance in proportion to internal spirituality and heavenly-mindedness; and the profession becomes more and more free from the spots of even God's children.

CONSCIENCE, instead of becoming more dim in its vision, acquires greater power of perception to discern the criminality of even little sins—and a greater delicacy of taste to loathe them.
LIBERALITY becomes more diffusive, and covetousness is mortified by a longer acquaintance with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

LOVE, that heavenly virtue, without which the greatest gifts are but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, bears not only a richer crop of blossoms—but of good ripe fruits. From loving a few, and those of our own party, we go on to the spirit of the apostle, and say, "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity." Those who are outgrowing the prejudices of party and of ignorance, and are rising higher and higher in the strength and stature of love, give, perhaps, the fullest proof of all, of growth in grace.
This is general growth in grace; for grace in one word comprehends all others—it is the genus of which all Christian virtues are the species. Faith is grace; penitence is grace; love is grace and so are patience, humility, and zeal—so that when we are called to grow in grace, we are not restricted to any particular disposition—but enjoined to practice them all.

by John Angell James

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